Alice Walker where are you? Did the mother of Betty Hemings give birth to any other children? Was she one of the many men and women who escaped during the revolutionary war, or perhaps died of heartbreak? Let's get real about experiences of generative Black mothers in history of America.
Our criticism of Black female writers such as Alice Walker is that they avoid topics of mass pregnancies and births by masses of Black mothers because thoughts are too painful for them to imagine. Writing about women being exploited by bad men is easier than that of mothers getting pregnant and giving birth, not for love, ... but personal welfare and other options.
The institution of chattel slavery could not have come into existence as it did in ante-bellum south without matriarchs in union with the slave masters, ... whether reluctantly or deliberately getting pregnant, and with some "human cows" giving birth to as many as fifteen offspring slaves. Slave owners loved them, ... and most so-called breeding slaves often hated Black men (often called studs) who did the degenerate deeds that many men then and now are quite capable of! A typical scenario that Margaret Mitchell did not write was the common practice of slave owners with prized proven reputable studs for lease. Many owners drove them to various plantations, dressed like a peacock, to seduce young or not so young slave women whose owner wanted them pregnant. Others simply executed a lease-hold agreement for stud services.
It is no small wonder that by the time slavery ended in the ante-bellum world of Margaret Mitchell's grandparents, ... most enslaved Black women had ample reason to fear, if not hate Black men as depicted by Alice Walker in her book "The Color Purple." The infamous book attacking all Black men, young and old, religious and heathen, ... was surely greatly influenced by the writer's reading and internalizing great literature by writers like Margaret Mitchell and maybe Harriet Beecher Stowe. But, the other novel still has not been written about women, then and now, who wanted to get pregnant by the best stud available or now days even artificial insemination.
We know for a fact that slave owners viewed getting slaves pregnant not much different than farmers and animal breeders do today for their breeding stock. Women could do it the easy way by seducing a desired male mate or the hard way with undesired plantation studs encouraged and rewarded for "breakin her in, knockin her up." Many, and perhaps most, slave women had offspring by multiple men put in their lives by owners and circumstances of men and women often being sold away from each other; and, most slave owners allowed for slave plantation marriages so long as it generated slave offspring. But, as Madison Hemings noted, ... slave owners did not hesitate to sell when a profit was possible in doing so. And, yes both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, on occasion, sold slaves for cash and other profitable considerations.
Owners via their paid overseers proved on numerous occasions their ability and will to inflict hell on earth for slaves deemed disobedient. Refusing to submit sexually to owners or those chosen by them was an act of disobedience punishable by not only auction sale but assured beatings and even to the pain of death. Most women chose to submit! The downside of course was that when her offspring reached the age of puberty years they were often likely to be sold, or sent away to work at another location from her.
Mind you, if Alice Walker had written a novel about this scenario of Black men as rewarded studs exploiting Black women to get them "good and pregnant" ... the book would not have found a publisher and certainly never adapted for a screen play and movie. Female slaves in America and the Caribbean quickly learned that getting pregnant and giving birth frequently was a matter of choice and self serving welfare that owners were happy to provide. Offspring were pawns in the system and their futures seldom bright or good.
In fact, slavery could not have spanned years and generations without generating women willing and able to perpetuate it as better than perishing at the hands of cruel and ruthless slave masters and overseers as described by Harriet Beecher Stowe in her famed novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in which Black women were the heroines and Black men the cowards .... (pre-Alice Walker sojourn at Sarah Lawrence College where she earned her degree rather than her short stay at Spellman College in Atlanta where teachers like Professor Lerone Bennett, Jr. of Morehouse College would have given her other literature to internalize.)
Plantation welfare and its after-math as we once daily knew it was a precursor to the social attitudes that re-emerged among millions of Black, White, Native and Hispanic women in America a hundred years after chattel slavery ended. Men of means again tailored and awarded benefits to mothers, ... in the name of children, not Christ! And, the absence of faith based initiatives to raise up a better generation was forgotten in the flood of money that mattered most to those who administered and received it.
The story most often never told, excepting by writers like Lerone Bennett, Jr. in the Black College experience and indoctrination, ... is that except for Christ, we should never have gotten up courage and faith to not only escape and fight to end slavery but also to raise up a better generation of mothers to generate "the New Negro" that non-believers rarely comprehend.
Running away and even suicide was always a possibility for men and women. More young men than women could and would run away but many youthful women also had or attempted abortions rather than give birth to slaves. And, it is likely that many of the childhood deaths were likely a result of the mother deciding a child was better off dead than living the harsh life of a slave. There is no doubt that many girls, often brutally raped, ... considered suicide.
Note: Information released by the Eppes family reveals the name of Betty Hemings mother whom we above Christianized as Mariam, ... was given the name of Susana by her owners, and maybe even civilized in the name of Paul and law to be obedient and not run away.
Note: Author Fawn Brody in her great book entitled "Thomas Jefferson, An Intimate History" uses the term "cheerful giving" which she would not have applied to a woman of her own ancestry.
The fact is there were thousands of Black and Mulatto women in slavery who gave birth to a dozen or more children by different fathers, both Black and White. We give the author credit however for acknowledging that chattel slavery was about power and privilege, not love as the source of sexual intercourse.
And, for believers, ... it is still a mystery of the faith that so many owe so much to so few who have made Christ occur for "the least of us." An obvious question, therefore, that we dare ask is, ... did Betty Hemings have any siblings? Did her mother have only one child? The answer is that we do not know, but care to try and find out when, where, and why or why not. A fertile slave woman rarely had only one child. Most slave owners, as businessmen, literally forced them to bear more slaves and in those cases where slave women could not give birth, they were subject to being treated like a field animal and subjected to sexual interaction with various paid studs until pregnancy and birth occurred.
Email: Contact Us: Email to: Editors, More Mary Matters
with questions or comments about this web site.